Holiday Shopping: Why We Lose Our Minds

If there is one time of year that our good senses seem to go out the window, it is during the holiday season. It is like we all wait to that one day of year to lose our minds collectively, elbowing our fellow shoppers in order to get the last gaming system.

I’m not going to lie: I’m guilty of participating in the madness that is Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Weirdo Wednesday, whatever marketing terms they come up with. Yes, in the past I’ve woke up at 3 am to score what I thought were awesome deals (hello, 500 thread count sheet sets for $29), gently pushing my fellow shoppers out of the way to get the last queen sheet set. But this was before my transformation into the Budget Fashionista.

So, I avoided Black Friday like the plague until I was invited a few years back, by the folks at Best Buy to observe their store on Black Friday. Now the thought of getting up at 4 am to sit outside a store in the cold didn’t sound that appealing, except for the fact that we were having Thanksgiving at my brother and sister-in-law’s who happen to live in Miami (full disclosure: they also offered to reimburse our travel expenses). If you are going to do an early morning shopping trip, there is probably no better place to do it than in Miami.

So, I woke up at 4 am to head to the store, with my hubby and brothers-in-laws who were more interested in the fact that my connection allowed them to scoop up the newly released Playstation 3, than any anthropological study of the habits of Black Friday shoppers. The store wasn’t set to open until 6 am, yet there was a line of about 100 people, mostly men, snaking around the store. I couldn’t help to think, haven’t these people ever heard of the web? There were even two police patrol cars with armed officers.

Upon heavy glares and hisses from shoppers in line, we walked to the first door, where I was met by the store’s assistant manager , who I’ll call Mark. Let me just say that Mark was perhaps the peppiest person I had ever met at 5 am. He informed me that he hadn’t slept in 24 hours and then proceeded to offer me a cup of coffee, while he led me to the center of the store where the staff was assembled in a circle. It reminded me of the prayer circles from church summer camp, but in an electronic store with a bunch of people in blue shirts.

After the meeting broke, with a slew of positive chants, each staff member went to their respective section. There was still a few before the store opened, so I decided to step outside and chat with people in line. There were over 200 people in line now, the line wrapping around the back of the store. There was also an additional police car. I asked one guy, who was about 10 folks from the front, how long he had been in line, and he said “since midnight the night before.” When I asked why, he replied, “why not; I had nothing else to do.” I replied, “Well, what about spending time with your family?” He then replied they are in line too and pointed to a woman and teenager in matching Florida gator sweatshirts.

My husband reminded me that it was getting close to the time for the doors to open, so we headed back in. I placed myself in the middle of the store with a clear view of the front door. Over the loud speaker, there was a countdown: “3..2..1… Open the Doors.”

The scene was like something out of the Mutual of Omaha nature shows. I mean, the Planet Earth people should have been there to film this stampede. Over 300 people (the line had swelled that fast in the 30 minutes or so I was in the store) all rushed into the store. It appeared that a majority was headed to the Play station and Apple areas. Desperately looking for my 6 ft 5-inch husband and 6+ft brothers–in-laws, I found that I was alone.

So why do we go crazy during Black Friday? Much like our caveman ancestors, who fought over the meat, we fight over Prada, video game systems, and Tickle Me Elmo’s. Again, it goes back to our competitive nature. Events like Black Friday, pit us against other shoppers, where finding the best deal is in an effort to score the best deal.

Black Friday is a major part of retailers’ sales strategy. I later found out that a significant number of shoppers on Black Friday don’t actually buy anything on Black Friday, phenomenon demonstrated clearly. You would think that after waking up at 5 am to wait in line in the bitter cold (unless you live in Miami), you would purchase something. According to the book Retailing in the 21st Century, only 31% of people who shopped on Black Friday actually purchased anything vs 48% on Christmas Eve. Further more, 80% of Black Friday shoppers purchase for themselves, NOT their holiday shopping list.

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